Hypatia from Alexandria, notes about the extremes of fear by L J Frank

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Credit: Jean Philippe-Cypres, photographer

What causes so much fear in a human they would cause the gruesome death of another, flayed, their skin peeled off while still alive, dragged through the streets with the bodily remains burned in a public display? What is the woven nature of the impassioned fear and devoted belief that allows for such a grisly, horrific deed?

The year of her death was 415 of the C.E., or Common Era. Her name was Hypatia (of Alexandria, Egypt). She was fluent in languages, considered an esteemed philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, inventor and a skeptic; wrote volumes and taught in the Library of Alexandria and in the streets, and in private households and businesses. Her writings were of such intellectual, scientific and philosophical insight that she was honored, envied and sought after as a teacher for her eloquence and ability to make the most complicated of scientific ideas accessible and understandable. Scholars and searchers of every ilk sought her out for advice and scientific insights.  Hypatia’s brilliance as a teacher and her comely physical presence intimidated those with other agendas for gaining power.

Instilling fear and initiating instability is only part of the groundwork for radical change. The other part is defining what is sacred? Man writes scripture and declares it sacred as his imagination of something greater than him serves as inspiration. Writing down words and defining those words as inspired by an invisible God is man’s attempt to legitimize the change made by rulers. Scripture becomes the child born from changes in power and subject to the accompanying rituals of sacrifice. Sin is a useful tool for those wishing to control others’ thoughts, actions and deeds. Man makes scripture the final authority.

People around the Mediterranean would argue and literally curse and brawl in the streets and maim and kill each other in arguments about the existence and non-existence of God and the human nature of Jesus. The raucous nature of existence – the brutality of those who sought power were not lost on the scholars of the period.

Gossip, intrigues and campaigns of whispers in privacy and rumors in public among the merchants initiated by those seeking to gain a greater hold on the minds of the populace spread like wildfire around the seaport. And all within view of the Pharos of Alexandria or Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, at the Harbor’s entrance. The Library of Alexandria would come under attack once again as any works that were contrary to the new ruler’s beliefs were burned or otherwise disposed of.

While having access to the scrolls that remained in existence even after the burning of the warehouses near the wharf by Caesar centuries earlier, much remains unsaid and unknown. Hypatia and her writings of which some were likely in existence though missing as time moved forward, while scholars fled to other parts of the Levant.

All ages think of themselves as modern. The people of Alexandria didn’t think of themselves as ancient but rather as sophisticated and modern compared to the “true ancients” as expressed in the writings of Berossus (Fourth Century B.C.E, or Before the Common Era) and housed in the Library of Alexandria where this Chaldean priest suggested that in ancient times men behaved like animals some 600,000 years previous to his life. Ancient, medieval and modern are artificial inventions as humans grapple with time and its meaning.

Existential was not a word used until the 19th century, yet I suggest is appropriate in understanding those seeking to come to terms with the purpose and meaning of existence in a world being polluted by superstition, lies and palace intrigues. “Diseases” of the mind may take many forms during periods of chaos.

Still, people have memories and memory is the fountain of water from which “humanity” drinks. Hypatia among so many others are remembered in various works in the years and centuries following her death. The effects of Hypatia’s existence are still found wherever scientific reason, skepticism, fairness and what is just are alive to serve as a counterpoint to the extremism wrought by fear.